Forget policy, watch the weather

Four alternative factors that could decide the election.

Over the next few weeks activists, politicians and commentators will argue and fight over campaign strategies to bring down their ideological opponents. Campaigns will issue press releases at a furious rate and triumphantly claim that they are going to "expose" their opponents on particular issues.

And it won't make much difference at all. Elections are rarely about policies; they are always more about politicians who can capture "the mood" of the electorate. David Cameron thought he had it in the bag until Nick Clegg became the "change candidate". Now it's all shot to hell.

The election is generating so much noise that arguments over policy aren't going to shift anything. People will just tune out. Here are some alternative factors that could influence polls by about 3 per cent to 5 per cent.

The one issue

Want to take out your opponent? Drop the range of topics and fixate on one issue. Keep on hammering at it so the message gets through and raises doubts in the minds of people likely to vote for them.

The noise level makes it impossible for a campaign with mixed and numerous messages to get something across. Ideally that one issue should be about policy, but subconsciously frames your opponent in an emotional way. Attacking the Tories on inheritance tax, for example, also frames them as a party only for the rich. The Tories still have problems convincing voters that they're not just for the privileged.

Brown has stuck stubbornly to talking about the economy, while Clegg will stick to talking about "a new politics". Cameron has the problem of mixed messages: "big society" doesn't resonate; he needs to attack Clegg but can't afford to sound too negative; Osborne isn't helping much.

The turnout

This will affect each party differently, and may even depend on the weather. A low turnout is bad for Labour because it mostly features the committed/angry voters who want to get rid of the incumbent.

Besides, poorer people are less likely to turn out to vote. So, good weather with a close, competitive election could ensure a high turnout -- which would be in Labour's favour. Pollsters agree.

What also matters is where the turnout happens. Both Labour and the Tories have constituencies that are so sewn up that a high turnout there would count for little. They all need a higher turnout in the marginals. However, if it becomes a very close election, then the popular vote may also become psychologically important.

The youth vote

This needs a separate category, for several reasons. The "yoof vote" is the main driver behind Clegg's recent resurgence and this bodes well for the future of the party. Young people are also better as activists.

Here's the problem for Clegg: the polls may be overstating and/or understating his popularity. Understating it, because many young people today live in mobile-only households (now 13 per cent of UK households) and are therefore not reached by conventional, phone-based pollsters. So support for the Lib Dem leader may be higher than imagined.

But Clegg's influence may be overstated if those youths don't go out and vote, as they are not prone to do.


Which brings me to probably the biggest factor: Get-Out-The-Vote operations will probably affect final counts more than arguments over policy.

A huge part of the Obama campaign was about collecting, harvesting and refining voter data so that on election day the Democrats could locate where his supporters were, knock on their door and harangue them to go out and vote. Everything boiled down to the huge GOTV operation.

In the UK, parties can't pay to drive the old and the lazy to the polls, so the problem is bigger. But the parties do have electoral register information to locate friendly areas. The big parties have also spent large sums developing sophisticated databases to collate and track voter information. If they don't use this properly for a GOTV drive on election day, all that discussion about policy will have been for nothing.

Sunny Hundal is editor of Liberal Conspiracy.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of Liberal Conspiracy.

Coders for Corbyn
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Can emojis win elections?

Jeremy Corbyn has claimed his campaign's use of technology would be the "path to victory" in 2020. But can emojis play a meaningful part? 

When photographic campaign badges were first unleashed in 1860, a Facebook commenter posted on Abraham Lincoln’s wall: “What is this? Today’s youth are doomed” and then, a moment later, “You call this news?”*

It might be tempting to react in a similar way to the fact that Jeremy Corbyn emoji – or rather, Jeremoji – are now a thing. Small digital stickers of the flat-capped Labour leader expressing joy and sadness might seem like the End Of Serious Political Campaigning As We Know It, but are they really that different from the multitude of deft and daft political campaign buttons throughout history?

Well, yes. Because there will be a marrow.

Beyond the marrow, however, Jeremoji aren’t actually that revolutionary. Before Kim Kardashian crashed the App Store with the 9,000 downloads a second of her Kimoji in December 2015, we here at the New Statesman created a much-needed Yvette Cooper emoji. Around the same time, Bernie Sanders supporters released BerniemojiThe slightly-less pleasing to the ear Hillarymoji were also unveiled by Hillary Clinton campaigners two months ago, though none of these apps were officially endorsed by their respective candidates.

“We’re not affiliated, we’re totally independent,” says Gregory Dash from Coders for Corbyn, the group behind Jeremoji, and a wider online volunteer toolkit for Corbyn supporters. “A lot of us have social links with the campaign and we ran ideas past them and got feedback but as an organisation we’re totally independent and all volunteers.”

Dash reveals that a variety of professional and amateur artists contributed to the emoji and that unfortunately, as the marrow design is currently being finalised, it won’t be in the first version of the app. Once the app has been approved by Google Play and the App Store, it should be available to the public in the coming weeks.

“Mainly they’re just fun but we’re also hoping we’ll be able to communicate some of the main message of Jeremy’s campaign,” says Dash.

But are Dash and other developers misguided in their attempts to promote sexagenarian politicians via a communication tool favoured by teens? Hillary Clinton has already been mocked for her attempts to capture the youth vote via memes, and has proven on multiple occasions that trying to be “down with the kids” can backfire. Corbyn’s own digital manifesto was met with scorn by some yesterday.

“To be very honest, the emojis are pretty cringy,” says Max Rutter, a 17-year-old from Oxford. “I know that they are targeted towards teens but politics isn't something most teens talk about on social media, and these emojis could only be used in a political conversation. Corbyn doesn't need emojis to get teens on his side, he just needs to stick to his guns and keep telling it like it is.”

A 2013 London School of Economics study on Youth Participation In Democratic Life supports Max’s assertions. The final report found that although in theory young people wanted politicians to use social media more, in practice it led to more negative perceptions of politicians and “an increased perception of the gap between political elites and the young.” Moreover, teens exposed to a social media campaign were less likely to vote than those who only received political flyers.

Jeremoji, then, may not ultimately capture the youth vote, and nor are they likely to make lifelong Conservatives pause and say, “On second thoughts, yes. This Corbyn chap is the man for me.” So what will they achieve?

“We’re hoping to do some emojis around Corbyn’s ten pledges and allow people to share them that way,” says Dash. The app already contains emojis affiliated with the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, a society seeking justice for miners after the Battle of Orgreave in June 1984. Dash also hopes to get emojis supporting the No More Blacklisting campaign and Save Our Steel.

“We want to have it so you go to the Orgreave campaign and you click the emoji and it will give you a little bit of information about the campaign as well,” Dash says. “Emojis then become a tool to communicate all these different campaigns that are going on. There are amazing things going on that the wider Labour membership may not know about.”

Coders for Corbyn seek the approval of each of these campaigns before creating the emoji, as they don’t want to seem as if they’re exploiting campaigns to make themselves look better “like Owen Smith did”. But despite their current affiliation with Corbyn, the group plan to rebrand as Coders for Labour after the leadership election.

“I’m not sure there would be the same demand for Owen Smith emojis, but we'd definitely still be producing Labour themed emojis for people to use,” says Dash, when I ask what he’d do if Smith won.

Dash tells me when iOS10 launches in the autumn, emojis will be available at three times their current size, and will be more like stickers. This means they can communicate complicated messages from various campaigns, and may also lose any potential stigma associated with the word “emoji”. In the late 20th century, campaign buttons like Lincoln’s were replaced by cheaper disposable label stickers. It makes sense for these in turn to be replaced by digital stickers. Even if emoji can’t win elections, they may still prove powerful in raising awareness.

The UK’s currently most used emoji is the despairing crying face. Personally, I see no problem with it becoming a marrow.

*May not strictly be true 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.